Feminism, Othering and Social Media
The next step in the typical tech-site-Pinterest-description is to go on and on about how woman-heavy the site is. Current statistics show that the site is 70-80% female, and a perusal of the main page usually reminds users of this. While the female-centeredness of the site is sometimes overstated, it also should not be dismissed.
And, no surprise, the tech community, which is still a boys club, has been terrible at writing about how people, especially women, use Pinterest. The site has been used as an excuse to make fun of women, stereotype women as shoppers, dismiss the site as overly gendered and anger some of the feminist blogosphere.
Of course, there is no one single feminist position on Pinterest or anything else. Some have celebrated and some have critiqued Pinterest as a safe space for femininity on one hand and also a sometimes troubling version of femininity on the other. This is a useful rehashing of a fundamental theoretical distinction we can make within feminist theory: difference versus dominance feminism.
The difference-feminist arguments above had to remind the tech world that a site should not be dismissed because women are using it; rather, this is precisely what makes it important. The cultural conversation around Pinterest has followed that similar path perhaps best outlined by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949). There has been a historical trend to view the male as “natural,” devoid of gender and able to stand in for all of humanity (remember Kohlberg only using males to construct a scale applied to everyone). Another example is the continuing usage (especially in tech-writing in the year 20-f’n-12) of male pronouns to stand for humans in general. As Beauvoir states,
In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.
This othering means that websites comprised mostly of men are seen as “neutral” and those that have even the slightest hint of femininity come to be seen as thoroughly saturated with gender; indeed, Pinterest has almost come to be defined by it.
Take Wikipedia: 87% of its contributors are male; a bigger discrepancy than Pinterest by any count. However, when discussing Wikipedia, it certainly is not the norm to go on and on about how male the site is. Instead, it is far more common for the site to be praised for its “neutral point of view.” Usually-male tech writers describing the male Wikipedia have convinced themselves that the site is neutral and thus useful to all of humanity. Pinterest, on the other hand, is implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, dismissed as merely female.
Even the description of how feminine Pinterest actually is can be overstated. Using Pinterest for the past month or so, I have noticed a great diversity in content. Yes, people post about cupcakes, but architecture, food, photography, design and lots of other things are popular, too. As Rebecca Hui states, “Pinterest is, very simply, a place for pretty things, and last I checked, beauty wasn’t gender-specific.”
In fact, over in the UK the majority of Pinterest users are male. Is the UK press going on and on about how male Pinterest is? (Of course not; remember, ‘male’ is thought to be neutral).